Are Your Playgrounds and Pools ADA Compliant?

Originally published in NYSIR News Fall 2012

The United States Department of Justice recently enacted changes for new or expanded public playgrounds and new or existing public pools under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).In the past, accessibility in these areas was covered by guidelines. Now accessibility is mandatory. The accessibility changes for playgrounds became effective on March 26 of this year. The deadline for accessibility changes for pool compliance has been extended to January 31, 2013.

The new ADA requirements for playgrounds are focused on the concept of “inclusion” versus “social isolation”. By increasing accessibility for all playground users, those with disabilities are no longer “isolated on an island” where they cannot play or interact with other children. When we provide playgrounds that are accessible, social inclusion becomes the norm and the barrier for those with disabilities fades.

The new requirements detail the specifications for accessible routes; ground level play components; transfer systems; and the number of ground level play components required based on the number of elevated play components.

These new requirements are explained in detail in the Department of Justice ADA Accessibility Standard web link:

Please refer to the following chapters on playgrounds.
Chapter 2, Scoping Requirements – Section 240 – Play Areas and Chapter 10, Recreation Facilities – Section 1008 – Play Areas

Another excellent resource for ADA Accessible Design is a publication from the U. S. Access Board entitled: Accessible Play Areas – A Summary of Accessibility Guidelines for Play Areas. This document can be downloaded from It features a number of photos of accessible design for future playgrounds or expansions and has an excellent “decision tree” that leads planners through the design process to ensure that an adequate number of components are present.

Existing Playgrounds
Existing playgrounds, constructed before March 26, 2012, must now be accessible. In most instances, compliance with this requirement can be achieved by providing an accessible opening in perimeter boards to allow for access into the playground area. A ramp or other transfer means may be necessary to accomplish this. These access points need to be a minimum of 44 inches wide.

Playground Surfaces
ADA accessible surfaces include poured rubber, engineered wood fiber and impact-attenuating tiles made of rubber or recycled rubber. If an existing playground has pea gravel surfacing, accessible routes can be created successfully using any of the variety of impact-attenuating tiles, as depicted in the photo on this page.

The new ADA requirements for pools are focused on the minimum standards for making swimming pools accessible. These standards apply to any pool (new or existing) that is open to the public, receives government funding or receives revenue from pool operation. Seasonal pools are not exempted from these new standards.

Do You Need to Adapt Your District Pool?
If your pool has less than 300 feet of linear pool wall, then only one means of access is required. If the pool has more than 300 feet of linear wall, two means of access are required.

With less than 300 feet of linear wall, access can be achieved via either a pool lift or a sloped entry. Since most district pools have been in place for many years, installing a sloped entry may be cost- or space-prohibitive. Therefore, the purchase of a pool lift will likely be the best solution. If you have a larger pool (300 feet or greater of linear wall), then one of the points of access is required to be a sloped entry.

Pool Lifts
While lifts can be permanently installed, there are situations where a portable lift may be used instead. If your pool is used for competitive meets, a portable lift provides the ability for accessibility but won’t interfere with pool competitions. The lift must have a minimum capacity of 300 pounds and must have a solid seat and footrest. The lift must be self-operable from the pool deck and water. Sling style seats and lifts with manual rotation or hand cranks are not compliant and must be replaced.

Lifts must be maintained in operable, working condition so that persons with disabilities have access to the pool whenever the pool is open to the public. A portable pool lift may be stored when the pool is closed or use is restricted (swimming meets, private parties, etc.), but it must be at poolside and fully operational during all open pool hours.

The standards for swimming pools can be found on the Department of Justice ADA Accessibility Standard site, Chapter 10, Recreation Facilities – Section 1009 – Swimming Pools, Wading Pools and S